Strenuous physical activity increases the risk of musculoskeletal injury and can induce muscle damage resulting in acute inflammation and decreased performance. The human body’s natural response to injury results in inflammation-induced pain, swelling, and erythema. Among sports medicine physicians and athletic trainers, the mainstays of urgent treatment of soft tissue injury are rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). In order to reduce pain and inflammation, anti-inflammatory agents such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) act on the multiple inflammatory pathways, which, although often very effective, can have undesirable side effects such as gastric ulceration and, infrequently, myocardial infarction and stroke. For centuries, natural anti-inflammatory compounds have been used to mediate the inflammatory process and often with fewer side effects. Tart cherries appear to possess similar effectiveness in treating the inflammatory reaction seen in both acute and chronic pain syndromes encountered among athletes and non-athletes with chronic inflammatory disease. This article reviews the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of tart cherries on prevention, treatment, and recovery of soft tissue injury and pain.
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